Acadia trail, once scary in ‘Pet Sematary’ movie, gets new life

The bulging tree roots that used to dominate a section of the Deer Brook Trail in Acadia National Park appeared so scary that they were featured in a scene in the Stephen King horror film, “Pet Sematary.”

A new stairway on the Deer Brook Trail in Acadia National Park

This new stairway on the Deer Brook Trail replaced part of a rooted, eroded section that was in a scene in the Stephen King “Pet Sematary” movie.

An elegant rehabilitation, led by the park’s trails crew, gave the Deer Brook Trail a major facelift, but the old rooty section was ideal for a spine-chilling scene in “Pet Sematary,” filmed in Maine in 1988, according to a newly released documentary on the movie production.

Today, the tree roots are replaced partly by a 13-step wooden stairway with hand rails and a landing for a rest stop. The rehabilitation relocated the Acadia trail out of the brook in some spots, ending some tricky rock hopping and water crossings.

Gary Stellpflug, trails foreman at Acadia National Park, said the rehabilitation of the Deer Brook Trail occurred during parts of two summers and then a portion of a third summer.
Stellpflug said the mangled tree roots needed to be replaced with the stairway and log cribbing.

Deer Brook Trail in Acadia National Park.

In this photo taken before the rehabilitation of the Deer Brook Trail, jagged boulders created some tough terrain for hikers.

“That was so eroded,” said Stellpflug. “There was nothing else we could do.”

“Pet Sematary,” which King calls his most frightening book, focuses on Dr. Louis Creed, who moves his family from the Midwest to a small town in Maine to become head of medical services at the University of Maine in Orono and later faces the tragic deaths and horrifying rebirths of his toddler son and wife.

The movie’s lead actors, Dale Midkiff and Fred Gwynne, hike along the Deer Brook Trail on their way to a Micmac burial ground, where the dead – both pets and people – resurrect after interment.

Midkiff, who plays Creed, and Gwynne, who is Jud Crandall, a neighbor and authority on the burial grounds, first hike “beyond the deadfall,” the piles of tree limbs that line the pet cemetery.

After scaling the deadfall, the two step along the spreading roots of the old Deer Brook Trail leading to the Micmac cemetery, situated above the more peaceful pet cemetery.

The Deer Brook Trail was not identified by name in the movie or in a new documentary about the film, but Charlie Jacobi, a resource specialist at Acadia, confirmed that the Acadia trail, situated off a carriage road, was a location in the movie.

Acadia trail just one of many Maine locales featured in ‘Pet Sematary’

The Acadia trail, which is in a ravine between Penobscot and Sargent Mountains, is among a number of sites in the Bangor area that served as locations for the movie including two offices in the Ellsworth City Hall, converted into an emergency room, and the Bangor International Airport for airport scenes, according to “Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary,” the new documentary about the filming of “Pet Sematary” in Maine.

The Creed home was a yellow farm house on Hancock Point Road in Hancock, owned by Charlie and Betty Lewis, who were interviewed in the documentary and the Bellview estate in Hancock Point was the childhood home of Creed’s wife, Rachel.

An old rocky, blueberry field in Sedgwick was the scene of night shots for the Micmac cemetery and a lush green wooded area in Ellsworth was the pet cemetery, with piles of granite and loads of dead wood and stumps trucked in for the massive deadfall, according to the documentary.

In the documentary, Carlene J. Hirsch, lead greensperson during the making of the movie and an area drama teacher, is interviewed about many of the filming locations.

The locations left a strong impression on people involved with the making of the Stephen King movie. “I was completely entranced with the nature and the landscape of Maine,” said Mary Lambert, the director of “Pet Sematary,” in an interview for the documentary.

In the documentary, Justin White, a codirector of the documentary, says that the actual film locations in movies are often more geographically complex than they appear in the film – and “Pet Sematary” is no exception.

“Take for instance – the journey from the Creed house to the Micmac burial ground,” White said in the documentary.

“The path behind the house is long gone but if you were to follow where it was in to the woods you would’nt find the spot where the actual Pet Sematary was. You would have to walk one town over to Ellsworth to see it. Beyond the deadfall was a trail of twisted tree roots that Fred and Dale had climbed and that in fact is an actual hiking trail in Acadia National Park, almost 20 miles away. Of course, one of the most impressive locations in the film was an old granite quarry, one of the few that can be found on Mount Desert Island.”

Centennial Challenge grant, donations give new life to Acadia trail

Once one of the more eroded trails in the national park, the Deer Brook Trail has experienced a rebirth of its own after the impressive rehabilitation financed by federal and private dollars, according to Stellpflug.

Pink granite steps on the Deer Brook Trail in Acadia National Park

Near the end of the Deer Brook Trail, new pink granite boulders fit snugly into the earth and make the hiking easy along a flat portion.

In fiscal 2015, for example, Acadia received a $50,000 Centennial Challenge grant from the National Park Service and a matching $50,000 from the Friends of Acadia to rehabilitate the trail. The Acadia Youth Conservation Corps also pitched in including high-lining large stones, benchcutting to relocate a section of the trail and planting new vegetation.

The Friends of Acadia also provided a $20,000 contribution from a single anonymous donor that allowed completion of the project, said Jeffrey Chapin, crew supervisor on the Acadia National Park trails crew who oversaw the work on the Deer Brook Trail.

During separate hikes in late May and during the July 4 weekend, it was amazing to walk on a section of at least 100 feet of new log cribbing, and along several hundred new or renovated granite steps that wind up to a high narrow point between Penobscot, the fifth highest peak in the park at 1,194 feet, and Sargent, the second highest at 1,373 feet.

The trail starts on the northwestern shore of Jordan Pond and ascends about 800 feet in nearly a mile to near the peak of Penobscot.

acadia national park hiking

The year of construction, 1925, is set into the circular medallion of the Deer Brook Bridge.

Starting out, the trail follows the brook and cascades before coming to the remarkable double-arched, 78-foot-long Deer Brook Bridge, built in 1925 by master masons under the oversight of John D. Rockefeller Jr.

The new wooden stairway transitions into log cribbing with obstructed views of the iconic North Bubble and South Bubble.

A tough stretch with protruding rocks and roots turns away from the brook. The Acadia trail then reaches an intersection with the Jordan Cliffs to one side and the east cliffs of Sargent to the other.

The trail crosses and follows the brook along scores of new pink granite steps, switching right and left until the brook becomes just a trickle and the woods turn silent and mystical.

At this point, the rehabilitation work is incredible with 90 pink granite boulders fitted nicely into a flat wooded path. The Deer Brook Trail soon ends at a junction located .1 to Sargent Pond, .9 from the peak of Sargent and .1 to the peak of Penobscot.

At the peak of Penobscot, the spectacular views include the Cranberry Isles to the south, Pemetic and Cadillac Mountains to the east and north to Sargent.

The Acadia trail no longer is ideal for a scene in a movie about the afterlife, but it is definitely a hiker’s heaven.